Risky Business

Insurance Watchdog Caught Napping

asleep at the wheel_DPA_cut
The German financial authority Bafin is not paying attention, say critics.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The German financial authority Bafin is supposed to supervise and regulate the insurance industry, but critics point to the large number of scandals uncovered by whistleblowers and the press as proof it has failed in its mission.

  • Facts


    • The largest of the scandals over the past few years involving some of Germany’s biggest insurers went undiscovered by Bafin.
    • There is little attention paid to sales and marketing strategies that have cost consumers dearly.
    • Deregulation in 2008 has not produced additional competition in the insurance sector, but it has increased premiums and driven thousands of policyholders to cancel their life insurance policies at a cost of 50 percent of premiums paid.
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Ergo Insurance Group representatives enjoying sex trips. Deutscher Herold life insurance sales representatives visiting swingers’ clubs. Questionable practices by Debeka to win civil servants and public sector workers for private health insurance plans.

The insurance industry has produced more than its share of gaudy headlines in recent years, but none of these licentious scandals were brought to light by the German federal financial supervisory authority, Bafin. The cases were exposed by public prosecutor investigations or the press.

“It would seem at the moment,” wrote Hans-Peter Swintowski, a German lawyer whose expertise includes private insurance law, “As if Bafin is still in search of a concept of its own identity.” His written opinion came after a roundtable Wednesday initiated by the Green Party on the subject of insurance regulation. A copy of his statement was obtained by Handelsblatt.

Gerhard Schick, Green Party fiscal policy spokesperson, is blunter in his assessment. “Bafin is not fulfilling its legal mandate to avoid or eliminate abuses by insurance companies,” he told Handelsblatt.

Although Bafin thanked Handelsblatt for the “confidential delivery of the points of criticism,” the agency did not want to make a comment prior to a hearing with experts. Bafin has a staff of about 350 focusing on the business activities of insurance companies and pension funds in the name of consumer protection, but critics say it is failing that mandate.

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